Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Masaan—Of Life, And Death

A few days ago, I finished reading Helen Macdonald's H Is For Hawk, a book in which the author learns to overcome the immense grief of her father's death by learning to fly a hawk. At one point, she writes about bereavement. "Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob.’ Robbed. Seized. It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try." She goes through a whole plethora of emotions, and in the end, comes out a much stronger, and a much more enlightened person. Reading the book, I was constantly reminded of Neeraj Ghaywan's Masaan, in which the smell of death is all pervasive, but in the end, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Devi (Richa Chadha) learn to accept the tyranny of life, and the certainty of death, and become much stronger individuals, in control of their destiny.
 
Throughout Masaan, there is a theme of people trying to somehow get out from the lives they lead because they feel stuck. Deepak's father wants Deepak to get out, and find a job, else he will remain stuck in the daily task of cremating the dead. Deepak's brother Sikander has an animosity against him because he feels stuck and he can never get out. Devi tells her father that she wants to get out and move to Allahabad, but the extortion case with the cop happened else she would have moved out even sooner. Shaalu wears a ring that is 'stuck' on her fingers, and does not come out. At one point, Sadhya Ji (Pankaj Tripathi) tells Devi that twenty eight trains stop here, but sixty four trains don't. Yahan aana aasan hai, lekin yahan se jaana mushkil. It is easier to come here, but it is not easy to leave. Like the lyrics of Hotel California, "You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave." The word Masaan means a crematorium, and is a place where the dead are burnt so that they can be sent to heaven. Humans build relationships in the world. Moh moh ke dhaage. It is easier to come in the world but it is not easy to go because of the relationships we build here. Everyone has a fear of death. The community of Doms helps the people who are 'stuck' by crashing their skulls, and bones, so that they can achieve salvation. At another point, the lesson in Deepak's class is about centrifugal and centripetal force. The professor says that centrifugal force turns into centripetal force, and people hit a deadlock there, so they started moving upwards. It has been quite a while I studied physics, but I remember some of it. Centripetal force is a real force acting on a body in a circular motion that is directed toward the axis of rotation while centrifugal force is an imaginary force, equal and opposite to the centripetal force, drawing a rotating body away from the axis of rotation. Centrifugal and centripetal force are essentially the same force, just that the frame of reference is different in the two, and centrifugal force can never really turn into centripetal force because one force is imaginary, and one is real. Perhaps, that is why when the professor says centrifugal force turns into centripetal force and gets deadlocked is more a reference to the film's larger theme of a body trying to move away from its center, but somehow, it gets pulled towards the center. They, then, move upward. Everyone wants to move out but the attachments in some form of the other prevent us, whether is love, relationships, or society. At one point in the film, there is even a beautiful set of balloons that float-up together. Even they want to get away. The film's English title is not a literal translation of Masaan. It is titled as Fly Away Solo, pointing to the desire to fly away. There is a wonderful sequence when a pack of birds are flying together in the sky.
 
Devi and Piyush check-in to a hotel while pretending to be married. They are in the middle of their first sexual experience, when the police knocks on the order and accuses them of engaging in illicit activities. Piyush rushes into the bathroom, and kills himself, while Devi is taken to the police station on the charges that she is a prostitute. There is a scene in Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met where another couple, Geet and Aditya check-in to a shady hotel, ironically named Hotel Decent. The receptionist assumes that Geet is a prostitute. In that film, too, there was a police raid. Although Geet and Aditya were not engaged in any 'indecent' activity, other couples in the hotel were. But somehow, they managed to escape, and nobody was caught. The contrast between the scenes in Masaan and Jab We Met could very well be what happens in real-life, and what happens in reel-life. Masaan, a realistic film, shows that one event changed the life forever as the couple got caught, while in Jab We Met, a not-so-realistic film and more an escapist film, shows that the couple manage to escape, and the event was remembered only for a few jokes later in their lives. Again, the couple in Masaan wants to leave but they are stuck by the ignominy of shame by the society. 
Sometime ago, Mumbai police raided a hotel where it picked couples from 'private' hotel rooms, and charged them with 'public' indecency. The irony of it cannot be missed. A few years ago, Meerut police thrashed married couples who were sitting in the park. If one has traveled in Delhi Metro, one would have seen young couples canoodling on the balcony of metro stations. All these are chilling statements on the stark reality of our country's claustrophobia that a young couple cannot find any space to engage in private activities. A few days ago, there was a report on a startup that is helping unmarried couples find a room. It is a fabulous initiative and hope there are more such spaces for people. 
In one scene, Deepak's father is sitting with a bunch of people during night. One of his friends remarks that there are two kings in Kashi—Kashi Naresh and Dom Raja. One on this side, and one on the other side. Hinduism is full of fascinating stories. It is believed that the Doms were once a family of high caste Brahmins. After Parvati died, different parts of her body were flung to different places in India. Her earring fell at the present ghat in Kashi. A member of this Brahmin family picked it up and kept it. When Shiva discovered this he cursed the family and decreed that they become the lowest of the untouchables—the Doms. The man who had found the earring pleaded for mercy on the ground that he was his devotee and that he had sought to return the piece to Shiva. Unable to take back the curse, Shiva was nonetheless able to modify it by gifting them the ghat and giving them a sacred fire, cremation by which would provide mukti to all who were burned there. The Dom Rajas are said to be the direct descendants of this family. There is another legend associated with Doms. It is believed that the great king, Raja Harishchandra, worked as a helper to Kalu Dom, who tended the cremation grounds centuries ago. The king had sold himself to the Dom. Since then, the head of the Doms, the chief cremator at Varanasi have taken on the title 'Dom Raja' or the Dom king. The Doms are the keepers of the sacred fire at the cremation ground, which is never allowed to die down. Death is the constant companion of the Doms, who spend their entire lives at these cremation grounds. Caste continues to remain a huge blot on Hinduism. It is ironical that to get mukti, one has to have the sacred fire of the Doms. In life, no one would touch the Doms, but people cannot achieve salvation without the sacred fire from the Doms. Death is indeed the great equalizer. Likewise, with the manual scavengers, who are called dirty and untouchables, when they clean the human waste of others. So, who is dirty here? How can even one justify the division of a society just on the basis of accident of births, and exploit them in the worst way possible? Few years ago, if someone had asked about reservations, I would have responded the same fashionable argument that there should be none, but I am not too sure now as reality is far too complex. Reservations may or may not be the right method, but some kind of affirmative action is definitely required. After millions of years of exploitation, I am amazed that Dalits continue to be believers in Hinduism. Should we blame them for trying to convert when their religion treats them in the most inhumane way possible? Why should they stay? There was this report of a groom where he had to wear a helmet on his wedding because he had the courage to ride a horse and upper castes threatened to throw stones. Human evilness, sometimes, has no limits. There are problems with all religions, but rather than crying hoarse about other religions, it is best to reform your own religion.
In Sharat Katariya's Dum Laga Ke Haisha, there was this metaphor of gurutvakarshan or gravity. In Masaan, we have the centrifugal and centripetal forces. There is another one in the film. At one point, we see Devi reading the thesis of Piyush. It is called Latent Dirichlet Allocation. I understand very little of it but it is something related to machine learning. There is a fascinating explanation to understand it. At a brief level, it is a technique that is used to find underlying patterns in things. For example, a researcher used this technique to find the topics commonly occurring in Sarah Palin's emails. To extend the same argument to the film, there are repeating patterns in the film's characters as well. The essential premise of the stories of both Devi and Deepak is the same and there are numerous common patterns in their stories—death of a lover, the importance of education, getting a jobs in Railways. He creates rails, and she cuts tickets, in a way both of them helping people to get away. But there are other common patterns. The cop blackmails Vidyadhar Pathak so that he can protect his daughter's reputation from being harmed. In one scene, we see the cop himself has a daughter. He has no qualms in extorting another father. Who knows some day his own daughter can get into trouble? Vidhyadhar Pathak and Deepak's father, Dom Raja, both work on the river bank, one on this side, and the other on the opposite side. One is an upper-caste Brahmin, and the other is lower-caste Dom but both are engaged in activities related to death helping people reach salvation. There is the repeating pattern of magic tricks. When Deepak and Shaalu meet at the fair, there is a magic trick happening on the stage. When Jhonta gives the ring to Pathak, he uses the magic trick that he learnt from the magician. There is the repeating pattern of a recording device. When Devi and Piyush are caught, the cop records their video on the mobile phone. When Devi is arrested, a girl records her arrest on her cellphone. When the students who are doing a course on anthropology come to speak to Pathak, they want to record his voice so that they do not miss anything. When Shaalu calls Deepak, and tells her poetry, he records her voice and gifts it to her as a present. No one wants to miss anything. In another scene, Sadhya Ji tells Devi about her dad who stays alone, Devi realizes that her own father is like that, and makes kheer for him as Sadhya Ji did. Everything seems connected, and related. Perhaps, that is the underlying meaning of the essential sameness of us, yet we create these insurmountable barriers. Paat na paya meetha paani. Or-chhor ki doori re.
There is also a reference to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. When Deepak gifts a souvenir to Shaalu, Gazab Ka Hai Din from that film starts playing. Based on a story of the rebellion of two youngsters—Raj and Rashmi—who leave their warring families, but are ultimately killed, the story of Deepak and Shaalu could have eventually reached that point, if not for Shaalu's tragic death. They had talked about running away, and Deepak finding a job, but life or rather death had other things destined for them. 
When Deepak is interviewed, he is asked a question on the difference between a narrow gauge and a broad gauge. It could well point to the thinking of narrow-minded and broad-minded people as Devi remarked, the smaller the town, narrower is the thinking of the people. Eventually, every train will move on a broad gauge in a few years, Deepak says, but the thinking of the people has also to move with the times. It is also a statement that one has to embrace change. When Sadhya Ji's erstwhile colleague refuses to learn computers, he says that Railways sent him off to the deserts of Dungarpur. 
There are some characters for whom one develops a visceral hatred. In Queen, I absolutely hate those kudi-mudi aunties in Paris when Rani visits them. In Devdas, I hate Dev's sister-in-law who sows the seeds of discord between him and his family. I think I will add the cop from Masaan to the list. I absolutely hated that man, the way he behaved, the way he sizes Devi when he visits her house, the way he abuses Pathak, and the way he extorted Pathak and Devi. It was bone chilling, and millions of people actually go through this on a daily basis. It is also fabulous acting that the boundaries between the character and the actor become blurred. On the other hand, I loved Deepak's friend KK who had colored his hair. He was a charmer. He does not judge his friends, and supports Deepak in everything. When Shaalu dies and Deepak breaks down in that gut-wrenching scene, he comforts him. He says he will hit him if he does not stop crying. If I had a friend like him, I would never ever let him go. And, then, there is the super awesome Sadhya Ji. He says he was that wise friend in his group, to whom everyone used to come for advice. He is genuinely such a gem of a person. He has a thehraav in his demeanor, someone who would never get angry with things. One would actually go for advice to him. But even his love story remains incomplete, like that of Deepak and Devi. He wants to tell something to Devi but she runs away.  
Poetry is filled in every corner in Masaan, be it the poetic moments or the poetic lyrics. The film begins by an Urdu sher by Brij Narayan Chakbast.

"Zindagi kya hai, anasir mein zuhur-e-tarteeb; 
Maut kya hai, inhi ajza ka pareshan hona" 
"What is life, a delicate arrangement of the five elements;
What is death, a disarray of these elements"

It is a beautiful couplet. According to Hindu mythology, every human body essentially is made from five elements which are earth (bhumi), water (jal), fire (agni), air (vayu) and space (aakash). Hindus believe that, upon death, all these five elements of human body are dissolved to respective element of nature, so that it can balance the cycle of nature. When a dead body is cremated, all these elements are present in some form of the other. Later, Shaalu narrates Deepak a sher from Ghalib. Tu Kisi Rail Si is a wonderful song, but Mann Kasturi Re is just terrific. There is a phrase in that song, and it says, "Ulta kar ke dekh sakey to, amber bhi hai gehri chhai." If you turn it upside down, even the sky is like a bottomless pit. The poetic imagery of the song forces us to savor the deeper meaning of life. 
At one point, Sadhya Ji tells Devi that she is an eight-armed Devi, like the goddess with eight-arms, ostensibly because of her speed of giving tickets to passengers, but she is also very much human. She does not shy away from accepting her feelings. When a young couple asks for tickets in Tatkal, even though tickets are available, she tells them there are no tickets. We hear the couple talking about going back to the shady hotel. So, perhaps, out of jealousy, she wants them to go through the same experience as her. She tells her father about the resentment that she had been harboring against him due to the death of her mother. Her father also gets carried away by greed that he put Jhonta's life in danger. It is these myriad emotions that make us human. Earlier, Shalu tells Deepak that there is a certain honesty in him, like that in the poems of Nida Fazli. There is a similar honesty in all the characters of the film. They feel and express their emotions, from the zenith of love to the abyss of grief.
There is also a pattern in the news that is shown in the television. When Devi and Piyush meet in the hotel, the news in the background talks about the incident of a man getting mauled by a white tiger in Delhi Zoo (remember Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger?). Then, the news of a baba engaging in indecent activities plays in the background. It was as if both the incidents are hinting to the events in the characters itself. Like the man in the zoo is eaten by the white tiger, Piyush gets trapped by the powerful police, and he gets killed. In a later scene, when the cop comes to visit Devi and Pathak, there is news about the flood in Ganga, and the villagers are requesting for help from the government for their rehabilitation. There is also a painting of a river in that scene in Devi's house. Likewise, Devi and her father are pleading to the cop for help so that they can forget this incident and move on with their lives. Further, Devi sees a competition on television to guess the face of the actress and win a gift, and she realizes her own unopened gift from Piyush.  
 At one point, some students come to Pathak for their anthropology project. The effects of industrialization (that was Deepak's group discussion topic), the use of technology, the power of social media, the deep aspirations of young bound by the barriers of caste are all seen in the film. Masaan could very well be an anthropology of society, of life, and of death.
Macdonald writes in her book, "There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are." Deepak and Devi will come to terms with loss, and will start again. Death signifies an end. But after death, there is also rebirth leading to a new beginning. 

Other Reading:
1. An old profile of the Doms in India Today (1986)—Link
2. On Gravity in Dum Laga Ke HaishaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Sitaron ko aankhon me mehfooz rakhna, badi der tak raat hi raat hogi. 
Musafir hai hum bhi, musafir ho tum bhi, kisi mod par phir mulaqat hogi."
Masaan

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happy Birthday—29

Mandatory birthday post. Happy Birthday, P. Just one less than the big thirty, but mental age still like that of a two-year old. This is the cake I ordered for myself. I will not show my sadness, but will try to find my own happiness, because picture abhi baaki haimere dost :) 


Dialogue of the Day:
"Aakhri baar likh raha hun, ho sake to kahaani yaad rakhna."
—Arjun, Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Taal—Of Fusion Of Two Beats

I remember I was in class seventh when Taal had released. In those days of no internet, I asked one of my friends to write down the lyrics of Kahin Aag Lage because I wanted to memorize the lyrics of the song. I still remember the lyrics by heart. I am surprised by how much the film has stayed with me even seventeen years after its release. I can watch it any number of times, and it does not feel dated, compared to some other films that released even four-five years after Taal. The music, the choreography, the story, everything seems fresh. It is a wonderful film. 
I was listening to its music some days ago, and a sudden epiphany came to my mind, about the character of Vikrant. There is a scene where he talks about the principles that he follows in life. He talks about the principles that his mother—ma—gave him, which he says belong to the twentieth century. There is another set of principles his uncle—mama—gave him, which he says belong to the twenty-first century. After the death of his mother, he duly followed the principles of his mother for five years, but he ended up being poor, playing in a stage band. Then, he met an uncle, who gave him a set of new commandments, and by following them, he became rich and successful. The principles that his mother told him were:-
  • प्यार बलिदान से ही महान होता है — Love becomes greater through sacrifice
  • नेकी कर दरिया में दाल — Do good and forget about it
  • कर्म कर, फल की इच्छा मत कर — Do your duty, don't expect rewards
On the other hand, the principles that his uncle told him were:-
  • प्यार सही लेन देन से ही मज़बूत होता है — Love remains healthy with give and take
  • नेकी कर पहले खुद से, फिर दूसरों से — Do good to yourself first, and then, to others
  • बिना फल के सब कर्म बेकार है — All efforts are useless unless backed with expectation of reward
  • इमानदारी से ज्यादा ज़रूरी है दुकानदारी — Business is more important than honesty
  • Competition से जीतने के लिए ज़रूरी है जलन, इर्ष्या — Envy is essential to win any competition
  • अमीर बनने के लिए ज़रूरी है लालच — Greed is necessary to become rich
  • बड़ा बनने के लिए ज़रूरी है दूसरों को छोटा दिखाना — Cut others down to size to gain an upper hand
Ma
Mama
Hindi films have traditionally portrayed being wealthy and rich as a crime. In the past, the villains were typically wealthy businessmen, usurious moneylenders, or rural landlords. The hero is poor, fighting his battle against the rich. It is from the 1990s, that films started accepting that being rich is not a crime. Shekhar Gupta remembers the column he wrote in 2001 on the seminal film Dil Chahta Hai, and he recounts, "It is safe to say that the change today is the logical step ahead of what Dil Chahta Hai indicated in 2001. Exactly a decade after economic reform was launched, this was our first hit that unabashedly celebrated being rich. Until then, Hindi movies had reflected the popular politics of the period, which was to glorify poverty, to mock rich Tata-Birla types and keep hammering in the point that real joy, virtue and morality belonged to the poor. In that Farhan Akhtar film all three men were rich, spoilt, drove fancy cars, drank champagne, had equally rich girlfriends. In the usual Hindi film until then, one of them would have been the son of a widowed cleaning lady in the home of one of the other two, who would go to eat in her kitchen and tell her aunty, nobody can cook like you." 
In Taal, Vikrant's character also points that being rich is not a crime. The principles of the uncle are quite similar to the tenets of capitalism and objectivism, while the principles of the mother have some tenets of socialism. Ayn Rand, the libertarian influencer and hero, who pioneered the movement for objectivism, wrote extensively about the same principles in her work. Throughout history, man has been given two choicesbe moral through a life of sacrifice to others—or be selfish through a life of sacrificing others to oneself. In The Virtue of Selfishness, she blasts this as a false alternative, holding that a selfish, non-sacrificial way of life is both possible and necessary for man. She argues that the ultimate moral value, for each human individual, is his or her own well-being. She also argues that love is not sacrifice. She says, "Selfless love would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you. Love is not self-sacrifice, but the most profound assertion of your own needs and values. It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person." She has also argued that greed is a virtue. Even Gordon Gekko famously remarked, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind." Of course, there is a big debate if greed is driving force for capitalism, but greed here means the ambition to scale new heights. A basic principle of capitalism is that individuals are motivated by the profit incentive, and the expectation of reward is the driving force of business. There is no altruism. Perfect competition is a characteristic of capitalism, and everyone wants to win. 
All the uncle's principles have the same thought as that of capitalism and objectivism, except the one on business being more important than honesty, because capitalism does not promote dishonesty. However, Rand has questioned how can an honest businessman survive in a corrupt world. She writes, "When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsionwhen you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothingwhen you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favorswhen you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against youwhen you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrificeyou may know that your society is doomed." In a curious case of cosmic connections (again!), a piece went viral a few days ago on social media, where Alex Tabarrok mentioned that Guru is the most important free-market movie ever made. He writes,"The movie is powerful not because it opposes virtue and corruption but because it opposes two ideas of virtue. Is it virtuous to follow the law when the law itself is corrupt? Other artists have explored this question when the lawbreaker opposes social injustice, ala Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but what about when the lawbreaker opposes economic injustice?" Likewise, Vikrant also compromised his principles because the world forced him to do so. 
Vikrant, in many ways, is following the same principles as that of capitalism, and objectivism. He calls himself an egoistic guy, which Rand extols. He does not believe in any charity. At one point, he refuses to do a show unless he is paid his full says, and says this whole charity business is a scam. After years of being poor by following the left-leaning principles of his mother, he has become rich and successful. It is a fascinating rags to riches story, where he reached success through his own struggle. Even his name Vikrant means someone who is courageous, powerful, ambitious, and victorious. There is also a grey side to him where he plagiarized someone else's songs without permission and made money out of it, but the film does not judge him. Because he is only selling art, if not his own, then, someone else's. In the end, he lets go of Mansi, and we see him back to his mother's principles. I am not sure if he will survive that. And, even though he let go of Mansi, it was because he did not want to lose. He wanted to be the winner who let go of Mansi of his own volition. Although he sacrificed his love as his mother said, but in this sacrifice, there was a desire to win, as his uncle said. Vikrant is a fascinating character, who surprises me when I think of him. I was reminded of Nitin from Rocket Singh—Salesman of the Year, who also started as an honest man, but later the world changes his idealism. Last year's Roy, also professed this love for selfishness in Sooraj Dooba Hai
Matlabi ho ja zara matlabi,
Duniya ki sunta hai kyun,
Khud ki bhi sun le kabhi.

Selfish, be a bit selfish, 
Why do you listen to the world, 
Sometime listen to yourself, too.
Tellingly, Taal as a film itself makes full use of everything-is-business philosophy, and inserts brand promotions wherever possible. Brands, such as Coke, Kenstar, MTV, Manikchand, and BPL, are shown prominently in the film. There was even a story somewhere that Subhash Ghai reached out to both Coke and Pepsi for the cold drink scene, and the one who bid the highest, he used that brand in the film.
There is also a lot to know about Manav, in contrast, with Vikrant. He is born with a silver spoon, and his family members call him prince many a time. He identifies himself as someone belonging to Great Britain. He has not seen a lot of poverty in his own life. When he comes to India, he visits India in trains and buses to experience the real India (Mohan Bhargava in Swades). We never get to know what he does in real-life. Perhaps, he will join his father's business. Manav has a strong belief in his own self. He is a human—manav. There is a lovely scene when he says to Mansi that he will not go to the temple. He says, "Ishwar insaan ke dil me basta hai. Uske andar swayam me rehta hai. Aakhir ishwar hai kya. Vishvaas hai, sachchai hai. Har insaan apne apne roop me usko dekhta hai. Koi kitaab me, koi murat me, koi roshni ki lauh me. Main ishwar ko khud me dekhta hun. Tumhara pyaar bhi to mujh par ek vishvaas hi to hai." It is a wonderful thought, to find god in yourself. Even love is a belief is one person on another, like the belief in god. It was this unwavering belief in himself that he got Mansi in the end, even though no one believed him. He said Vikrant will send Mansi to him. His father will bring Mansi home some day. And, it happened, because when you have God in you, there is truth with you. In a latter scene, we see a picture of spiritual leader Osho, who also famously said that there is no God. "Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you also. There is no God other than life itself. Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere." It was already written that he will get Mansi because she is Manavsi—Manav jaisi.
Osho
There is also a very interesting theme of two choices that underlines the film. There is the choice between Lakshmi—goddess of wealth, and, Saraswati—goddess of knowledge. Manav's father worships Lakshmi, while Mansi's father worships Saraswati. There is the choice between Manav and Vikrant for Mansi. Both Manav and Vikrant are musicians. Both love her, both capture her in their camera. Both express love through Coke. They are similar and also different. There is a choice between a prince (as Manav's family members call him), who got everything by his accident of birth, and a self-made orphan, who has no family. There is a choice between the necklace given by Manav, and the bangles given by Vikrant. There is a choice between being emotional and being practical. Vikrant does not believe in being emotional, while Manav thinks from his heart. At one point, Mansi's aunt tells her to be practical. In one fabulous scene, we see Mansi upturning an hourglass, reflecting the conflict between these two choices, like the two sides of the hourglass. There is the choice between the principles of ma and mama, There is a choice between the twentieth century and the twenty first century. There is a choice between a rural life, and an urban life. 
In another such touch, the film shows us a choice between Indian-style music and choreography, and Western-style contemporary music and choreography. In the party, they announce that Manav has won numerous awards in Indian music and Indian literature. On the other hand, Vikrant keeps a statue of Elvis Presley—one of the greatest icons of Western music—in his office desk. The song Taal Se Taal Mila is shown two times. One in Indian-style, and one in Western-style. In fact, the soundtrack very clearly mentions this version as Taal Se Taal (Western). There is choreography by Saroj Khan, known for her iconic Indian-style dances, and Shiamak Davar, widely credited as someone who brought contemporary jazz and Western-style dance forms to India. Mansi dances fabulously on Indian music, but dances equally fabulously on Western music. 
Elvis Presley
It is even noteworthy that there is no right or wrong choice in the above that the film tries to advocate. It does not judge the characters by their choices. When Tara Babu finds out about Mansi and Manav, he says, "Unka hamara koi taal-mel nahi hai nahi hai." Mansi replies, "Par meri taal Manav se hai." That's what the repeating motif of duality in the film is also about. Finding the right taal to come to a common point, and reaching a mutual agreement. Perhaps, that is why the film's title is also named Taal. It is not only about the taal of music, but also about the fusion of two different beats, two different entities, to make something even more beautiful. Taal Se Taal Mila

Books In Movies:
A book on Shakespeare 
Mansi reads Savvy
Book on Guiness Records
 
Just for laughs :)
Love
Dialogue of the Day:
"Ishwar dil me ho toh, sachchai mazboot rehti hai."
—Manav, Taal

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Weaving Love—A Motif in the Films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali

One of my favorite scenes from Bajirao Mastani is the one where Kashi and Maa Saheb are weaving the flag, and talking how they are similar to each other. Kashibai says that all through the years, she was Bajirao's parchhai (shadow) and without telling, he went into darkness. In darkness, a shadow does not exist, making her question her own existence. Thereafter, Maa Saheb compares their lives to a mango tree; even though mango might be the king of fruits, but it is also the one that has to bear the most stones. The two of them bonded by sewing a saffron flag—the flag of their kingdom—as if they are bound together by tradition. In an earlier scene, when Bajirao is leaving Bundelkhand, Mastani is embroidering on a green velvet carpet/flag. It then struck me that there is a similar motif in all of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films. Like peacocks, mirrors, fountains, paan, top shots, and diyas, this is another pattern that is a signature trope in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. 

In Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, early in the film, Ram's sister-in-law, Kesar is sitting with a bunch of women, and they are embroidering on a beautiful cloth, perhaps, a bed-sheet, and talking about Ram. In Guzaarish, Sofia is embroidering on a piece of cloth when Devyani comes to visit Ethan and talks about his plea for euthanasia. In Saawariya, Sakina is a carpet weaver, and weaves the finest carpet for Iman. In another scene, Jhumri Apa is seen knitting a sweater. In Black, after the incident when Debraj forgets Michelle on the street, she is embroidering on a cloth. Even for a person who cannot see, this motif is still present showing its importance. In Devdas, after Dev comes back from London, Paro comes to meet him, and brings a sweater that she is knitting for him, and puts it on his back to check if the size she estimated for Dev fits him. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, during Albela Sajan, Nandini and the women in her family are again embroidering on a saffron cloth. Later, when Nandini visits Sameer's village, Sameer's mother and a group of women are also embroidering. In Khamoshi, Uncle Willie gives the gramophone to Annie, and she starts dancing on the song. Her mother Flavy is not happy with it as it reminds her of her son, and she starts stitching on the machine making a noise which annoys Annie. In all the films, a lady is weaving, stitching, or embroidering. In almost all of these, the scene comes when a special person is being talked about, and is being missed—Bajirao, Ram, Ethan, Iman, Debraj, Devdas, Sameer, and Sam. Perhaps, there is some intense personal connection that he always put this motif in his films, or it has something to do weaving relationships. They are trying to connect to something to which they cannot physically meet. They are trying to develop a bond. Rishton ki dor. Love is the delicate thread that weaves joy into the fabric of our lives. Even the great Kahlil Gibran has said,"And what is it to work with love?It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth."


It is amazing that every time one watches a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, there is something new. It has been present all along but somehow it was missed earlier. I am watching Bajirao Mastani again, and it seems there are so many details that I missed the first time. Perhaps, that is the mark of a great film. It surprises you with every viewing, peeling the deeper layers, and bringing a fresh perspective to things. As a lifelong student of cinema, it could not be any better. 
Kashi, Maa Saheb and Mastani in Bajirao Mastani
Kesar in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
Sofia in Guzaarish
Sakina and Jhumri Aapa in Saawariya
Michelle in Black
Paro in Devdas
Nandini and Sameer's Mom in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
Annie and Flavy in Khamoshi
Other Reading:-
1. On Bajirao Mastani (link)
2. On Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram-Leela (link)
3. On Black (link)
4. On Saawariya (link)
5. On Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (link)

Dialogue of the Day:
"Kehne ke toh aam phalon ka raja, lekin sabse zyada pathar sehna usi ke naseeb me hota hai."
 —Maa Saheb, Bajirao Mastani